Film Review: Wind Across the Everglades (1958)

Also known as: Across the Everglades, Lost Man’s River (working titles), Inferno Verde (Uruguay), Muerte en los pantanos (Spain)
Release Date: September 11th, 1958 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Nicholas Ray, Budd Schulberg (uncredited)
Written by: Budd Schulberg
Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter
Cast: Burl Ives, Christopher Plummer, Gypsy Rose Lee, Chana Eden, Mackinlay Kantor, Emmett Kelly

Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“Ah! The sweet-tastin’ joys of this world!” – Cottonmouth

I never knew about this movie, which is odd, as I have grown up and lived near the Everglades almost my entire life. I’m also a fan of Nicholas Ray’s films but I am also mostly just familiar with his work in film-noir. Needless to say, this was an interesting discovery, as I was perusing the content on FilmStruck (a streaming service every cinephile should get).

What’s fantastic about this film is its use of on location shooting. This was legitimately filmed within the Everglades, which is really impressive for a motion picture that came out in 1958.

Having lived on the edge of the ‘Glades, I know that the production must have been an insane undertaking. The swamps are a hell of an undertaking just trying to hike them and since this film really gets into the murk, lugging all that heavy equipment had to be a hell of a workout. Plus that heat, the humidity, the never knowing when the hell you’re going to get instantaneous downpour from the heavens, the bugs, the snakes, the alligators, the boar, the bears, the panthers, the snapping turtles, all of it, man. So I can’t give enough props and respect for the crew that captured this beautiful picture.

I really loved that this film put its focus on environmental conservation, especially in the Florida Everglades. I loved the opening sequence that showed a train arriving to Miami around 1900 or so. The lavish outfits of the women and their love of fashionable plumage was a good addition to the film’s backstory of showcasing how mankind doesn’t really give a crap about how it wrecks the planet, as long as they can achieve the level of status that affords them the luscious plumage of birds being hunted towards extinction. I’m not a super lefty or anything but pillaging nature for fashion is pretty f’d up, just sayin’.

Anyway, Christopher Plummer (in his first starring role and only his second film) shows up in Miami, which is pretty much just a swamp with a train station in 1900. He makes a goofy mistake and finds himself forced into being a game warden for the Audubon Society. He is warned about a man named Cottonmouth (Burl Ives), who has a posse that kills wild birds for their feathers. The two men cross paths and make their intentions clear to one another.

As the film progresses, Plummer’s Murdock falls in love with the job, the wild around him and pretty much sees God’s hand in it all. This isn’t a religious film, he just goes on some tangents about natural beauty and whatnot from the perspective of a dude from 1900ish America.

The two men, despite their rivalry and being on opposite ends of the law, develop a respect for one another, which all comes to a head in the film’s climax. This isn’t a predictable film. It actually feels a lot more realistic than Hollywood’s standard theatrics of the time.

It’s worth noting that Nicholas Ray was fired before the film was completed and Budd Schulberg, the film’s writer, took over and then handled the editing. His lack of experience is apparent in how the film is cut and paced but Ray’s vision still comes through in the framing of most of the shots and the general cinematography. There are just a handful of things that come off as weird in the film. For example, when Murdock, talking about the majestic birds, refers to the sun gleaming off of their feathers, a shot of birds in silhouette is cut over the dialogue. But maybe getting all the wildlife footage was difficult and this is all they had to work with in post-production.

I really liked this movie, despite its few flaws. Plummer and Ives had a good chemistry, the direction was mostly pretty good and it just taps into the history of a place I call my backyard.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Nicholas Ray films: Hot Blood, The Savage Innocents and Bitter Victory.

Film Review: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Release Date: December 6th, 1991
Directed by: Nicholas Meyer
Written by: Nicholas Meyer, Denny Martin Flinn, Leonard Nimoy, Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Kim Cattrall, David Warner, Christopher Plummer, Iman, Brock Peters, Kurtwood Smith, Mark Lenard, Grace Lee Whitney, John Schuck, Rosanna DeSoto, Christian Slater, Michael Dorn, Todd Bryant, René Auberjonois

Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Captain’s log, stardate 9522.6: I’ve never trusted Klingons, and I never will. I could never forgive them for the death of my boy. It seems to me our mission to escort the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council to a peace summit is problematic at best. Spock says this could be an historic occasion, and I’d like to believe him, but how on earth can history get past people like me?” – Captain James T. Kirk

Something has to be said for the quality that Nicholas Meyer brings to a Star Trek movie, whether as a director or a writer. He directed two of the very best films with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and this one. He also was involved in the writing of my personal favorite film in the franchise, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

While most fans consider The Wrath of Khan to be the very best, this chapter in the franchise is equal to it. Again, I like The Voyage Home the best overall but Khan and this film are very, very close seconds.

Where Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was almost the death of the franchise on the big screen, this was a breath of fresh air and a proper swan song for the original Enterprise crew, as it was the last time they would all be together. It also sort of closes a major chapter in Trek lore, as the Federation and the Klingons, after decades of conflict, agree to try their hand at peace.

It is that attempt at making peace between the two governments that brings out the worst in some of the characters in this film. People on both sides of the coin don’t want to trust each other and some of them conspire to kill the opportunity for peace. In fact, this is more of a political thriller and a conspiracy movie than just some fantastical sci-fi adventure.

Following a diplomatic dinner between the Enterprise crew and the Klingon Chancellor, the Klingon ship is attacked and the Chancellor assassinated. Everything is set up to look like Captain Kirk orchestrated the attack. As he and McCoy are framed for the assassination, they are sentenced to hard labor on a Klingon prison planet. All the while, Spock heads up an investigation on the Enterprise itself, in an effort to solve this mystery, save his friends and to win the trust of the Klingon Empire and bring forth much needed peace.

The Undiscovered Country isn’t just a great Star Trek movie, it is a great political thriller. It feels real and gritty, even if it takes place in outer space of the future. The experience of the cast really shines through here. Spock takes charge of things on the Enterprise and its really the first and only time we see him truly step into the role of leader. Nimoy knocks it out of the park and his chemistry with the other Vulcan on board, played by Kim Cattrall, was incredible.

We also get to see Sulu as a star ship captain and not only that, he is the captain of the Excelsior, a ship he greatly admired in Star Trek III and Star Trek IV. Seeing Sulu get his moment to shine in the captain’s chair was fantastic for those of us who have been fans of this series for decades.

Another highlight was Christopher Plummer as the Klingon villain General Chang. Plummer is the greatest villain in the film series after Khan from Star Trek II. While I loved Christopher Lloyd’s Kruge in Star Trek III, Chang is the best Klingon commander in the franchise. He’s a character I’d love to read more about, assuming he’s got a novel out there.

The Undiscovered Country is Star Trek at its best. It stands well above any of the modern films, as well as The Next Generation movies that would follow for a dozen years after it.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Star Trek‘s IIIII and IV.

Film Review: Dragnet (1987)

Release Date: June 26th, 1987
Directed by: Tom Mankiewicz
Written by: Dan Aykroyd, Alan Zweibel, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: Dragnet by Jack Webb
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Tom Hanks, Christopher Plummer, Harry Morgan, Alexandra Paul, Dabney Coleman, Elizabeth Ashley, Jack O’Halloran, Kathleen Freeman

Universal Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“Now let me tell you something, Streebeck. There are two things that clearly differentiate the human species from animals. One, we use cutlery. Two, we’re capable of controlling our sexual urges. Now, you might be an exception, but don’t drag me down into your private Hell.” – Friday

Man, I used to really love this movie as a kid. But it is a totally different film when you watch it several years later without the mind of a nine year-old in the 1980s.

Sure, Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks are both great and when put together, they are still pretty great. Unfortunately, the overall humor and the gags in this just don’t work as well in a world thirty years after the film came out.

When this was written, it was supposed to be juvenile and goofy and it still is but I don’t understand what Aykroyd was trying to accomplish. As a kid, I knew what Dragnet was but I wasn’t too interested in old black and white shows that my mum would watch on Nick At Nite in the 80s. This was supposed to bring the franchise to the next generation but it could have just been a buddy cop comedy and didn’t need to carry the Dragnet banner. I can only assume that Aykroyd was a massive fan of the original show.

While I did still enjoy the experience of this movie, it is probably because of nostalgia. It doesn’t come close to being anywhere near the level of Aykroyd’s Ghostbusters or The Blues Brothers and it also doesn’t come close to Hanks’ Big or Splash. It sort of just exists as this film where we got to see Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks come together with a little Dabney Coleman thrown in for extra laughs.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an awful film it is just a pretty basic one albeit amusing and endearing for fans of 80s comedies.

I did like the villain group P.A.G.A.N., even if my really religious mum thought it was Satanic and bizarre. The whole scene with the big P.A.G.A.N. ritual was really cool and one of the highlights of the movie.

Another highlight was the inclusion of Harry Morgan in this, as I did grown to become a fan of the original Dragnet, which he was a big part of.

I don’t think that Dragnet is going to be a film that will live on for generations. In fact, most people have forgotten about it or don’t know it exists. It really only works if you are a fan of the people in it and can watch a mostly mindless 80s comedy and enjoy it for what it is.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Starcrash (1979)

Release Date: March 7th, 1979 (USA)
Directed by: Luigi Cozzi
Written by: Nat Wachsberger, Patrick Wachsberger
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Marjoe Gortner, Caroline Munro, Judd Hamilton, Robert Tessier, Christopher Plummer, David Hasselhoff, Joe Spinell

Columbia, American International Pictures, New World Pictures, 94 Minutes

9c17a67296586aa6c2d153e13395f1deReview:

Starcrash is an Italian science fiction fantasy film that came out during the height of low budget Italian ripoffs of successful American films. The copyright laws in Italy of the 1970s were pretty chill and they produced a slew of films that would’ve had filmmakers lawsuit crazy in the United States.

It is pretty obvious that this movie is a ripoff of Star Wars. From the use of lightsabers, a giant planet destroying super weapon and pretty much everything else in this movie, it is pretty clear what the Italians were trying to tap into.

Of course, being that it is an Italian film, it is sexy as hell. The movie stars a scantily clad Caroline Munro. Still to this day, she is everything I want in a woman. Okay, maybe not everything but she was my first crush as a kid and out of all my childhood crushes, is the one I still find stunning and absolutely perfect, whether it was in this film, Dracula A.D. 1972, Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, The Spy Who Loved Me, Maniac, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Slaughter High, The Last Horror Film, At Earth’s Core or as a beautiful deceased corpse in the Dr. Phibes movies. But this isn’t about me perving over the stunning Ms. Munro.

Starcrash is a really bad film. So bad that it was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. But it is one of those bad films that is quite good for its faults.

The dialogue and situations are unintentionally funny. The characters are over the top and too bizarre to believe. And then there is the dubbing. Caroline Munro is an English speaking actress, being that she is from England, but she got a bizarre American accent dub from another actress. It just makes this film feel even more surreal than it already does.

We also get to see a very young David Hasselhoff show up in the film as a prince who needs rescuing but is actually a pretty heroic character in his own right. Joe Spinell, who would go on to work with Munro in several films and is most known as Gazzo in the first two Rocky films, plays the evil Count Zarth Arn.

The one thing that stands out above all else in this film, is the fact that it looks like 70s pop art. The bad effects and space battles are beautiful in their simplicity and color. The set design looks like something Roger Corman would’ve done twenty years prior but they work and make this film one of the best campy sci-fi movies in history.

This film has a 4.0 on IMDb, I get it. As a piece of filmmaking it is a 4.0 film. However, as far as being fun and unintentionally awesome for all its flaws, it is a much better watch than a 4.0 film.

And it has Caroline Munro in it.